How can you be a Zionist if you don’t live in Israel?

I’ve been noticing something lately. It’s a statement that has been said to me directly and one that I’ve heard over the past two-and-a-half years while living in Israel. It has become an ongoing trend that has proven to be quite unsettling for me. In fact, so unsettling that I feel the need to address it in writing.

In August, 2014 I embarked on a journey that no one in my family, with the exception of a few distant relatives, had ever thought to embark on themselves; I took a path that had yet to be traveled upon; I turned an idea into a dream, and then a dream into a reality by making Aliyah to Israel.

Not long after my plane landed on the runway, I was soon confronted with the same question most new immigrants are asked: “Why would you leave America and move here!?” I was told by several people that I was crazy for making Aliyah, and they asked me how I could be so foolish as to leave a country with seemingly so much more opportunity.

You see, Israel is not an easy place to live; everything here is much more expensive, and for any job that you could get in the United States, you are almost guaranteed to make less money in the same job here. Life, while rewarding, is harder here. Language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, and the constant battling of the bus systems makes a nice 5 minute ride to the nearest Walmart in the States seem very appealing.

In many ways, survival here is dependent on a deep Zionistic dream to see the birth of a Jewish nation thrive. Israelis tend to sit back and scratch their heads when young, vibrant Americans move to a far less opportunistic country. It’s hard for the sabra (native Israeli) to understand why we would leave the shores of America—the Land of the Free—to come draft into the army, get yelled at by commanders much young than us, and then live in a run-down city with rockets flying over our heads. For most Israelis—America is the dream.

However, very quickly these opinions change when Zionism comes into the discussion. When confronted with the question: “Why would you ever leave America to come here!?” and when answered with “Zionism,” suddenly you turn an Israeli confrontation into a brother-in-arms, we-are-all-in-this-together type of moment.

When an American Oleh (new immigrant) explains their reasoning for Aliyah within the realms of Zionism, suddenly its much easier for them to understand. One day, when yet again asked whyI moved here, it started a conversation about Zionism in America. I mentioned how most Jews that I’ve met are Zionists, but probably would never actually make the decision to live here in Israel permanently.

The response was not what I expected. The reaction was that they can’t really be Zionists if they are not willing to live in Israel.

Shortly after this upsetting statement, I began hearing this over and over again, ultimately causing a very emotional and frustrated feeling to overcome me. I grew up in the States and considered myself a Zionist even before contemplating moving here to the Holy Land.

After exploring this statement more I began to realize that this is an age-old claim that is still roaming amongst Israeli society: You cannot be a Zionist if you do not live in Israel.

But this claim is false, perhaps even absurd.

Zionism, or a personal identification with and support for the State of Israel, has become an integral ingredient for the makeup of Jewish identity. Active participation in Zionist youth movements, supporting Israel events, Israel fairs, and Pro-Israel clubs on college campuses allows many non-observant young Jewish people to be connected to Jewish life and strengthen their identity, both on a personal and corporate level.

The roots of Zionism were founded in the dream of a Jewish State. Today, we have that Jewish State. We have borders that are defined and defended, we have cities that we’ve built, we have cultures that have changed and molded into the fabric of Israel. We have new immigrants coming from all over the world, some seeking safety to live a Jewish life, others idealism. The claim that Zionism is only within the borders of Israel is unfair to the many that defend and love Israel from afar.

It is very easy for an Israeli to take it for granted that they have been woven into the Israeli fabric from birth. The Hebrew language is their mother tongue; Israeli attitude and chutzpah is their culture. Understanding the difficulties and frustrations of learning a new language and different mindset, despite the familiarity of the country’s Jewish character, can be tough to comprehend. And while the dream of Zionism is what helps new immigrants in this fight, Zionism is not only for them.

Israel needs foot soldiers in the war against anti-Israel propaganda that is being disseminated throughout Europe and the United States. I can still remember being a student and witnessing anti-Israel demonstrations portraying Israel in a distorted fashion, regularly performing gymnastics with the truth of the state of Zionism and the State of Israel.

Who will defend these values and the Jewish homeland if not the Jewish communities of the diaspora?

Only these Zionists living outside of Israel can truly shed light upon the truth concerning Israel. But only you can make this claim viable. Increased awareness of Israel-related current issues and involvement in Pro-Israel groups and events emboldens this cause. Although this is a concise explanation of this issue, my goal is that this would serve as an encouragement. Contrary to the idea that Zionists are only those that make Aliyah, they are also those that defend and celebrate Israel everyday in the diaspora.

About the Author
Jason Silverman holds a BA in Middle East Studies and Hebrew from the Ohio State University. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Jason decided to make Aliyah in August, 2014 and served in the IDF as a tank commander. He currently resides in Jerusalem and is a graduate student in International Relations at Hebrew University.
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